Just between you and me, I never thought I would be involved with another cookbook. Back in 1986, my advertising agency’s largest client was Marriott Corporation. With their 60th anniversary looming, they asked me to come up with some promotional tactics. One idea that had been floating about was that of memorializing Marriott’s first business. You see, long before there was a single Marriott hotel, there was Hot Shoppes – a chain of restaurants founded by Bill & Alice Marriott in 1927. So in 1987 I conceived, edited and published The Marriott Hot Shoppes Cookbook – Sixty years of American Cookery. It’s a compilation of Hot Shoppes recipes and includes a history of Marriott. Published by my agency, it sold around 100,000 copies when Amazon was still just a rainforest in South America.
Fast-forward sixteen years. I’m living and working in Russia -- where vodka plays as important a role in the culture as wine does in France or Italy. (Did you know there are over 1000 different vodkas in Russia?) One day it occurred to me that, although it is the world’s most popular spirit, I have seldom seen vodka used in cooking. This fact is particularly striking in Russia where vodka and food are inseparable. Most Russians dine and entertain at home where the table is always set with ‘zakufski,’ (appetizers), including pelmeni, caviar & blini, black bread and the omnipresent bottle of vodka. Yet actually cooking with vodka is quite uncommon.
So I went surfing. Amazon listed dozens of books about cooking with wine, beer and other spirits. But no vodka. Then I Googled vodka recipes. Hundreds of vodka tomato sauce variations and a few other odd bits turned up. But hardly a treasure trove of ideas. Perhaps this colorless, flavorless spirit lacked sufficient versatility for cooking? I pressed on. I began crafting my own recipes and quickly learned that vodka is ideally suited to cooking for the same reason it is the most popular spirit in the world. It is the ideal mixer. Along the way, I also started infusing vodka with a variety of flavorings and then incorporating them into my dishes. Through trial and error, and more than my share of culinary catastrophes, I learned what I could about the effects of vodka on other ingredients. (I already knew what its effect was on me. But that’s another, far less appetizing story.)
After a few years of cooking nights and weekends, I found I had developed a large and eclectic collection of recipes with one ingredient in common. The Vodka Cookbook was born. Of course I probably should have let my housekeeper know what I was up to. As the empty vodka bottles piled up, I think she was about to launch an intervention, before she learned the truth.